If you’ve ever stood near the door of a school that opens onto the playground just after the recess bell rings you’ll be able to visualize the picture I want to paint. Here’s the picture: You’re standing in the parking lot just after the worship service dismisses and the benediction concludes. In nano-seconds the pews empty and the saints are headed for home. The lofty strains of the organ still echo in the worship center; but the only human sounds are the deacons picking up crumpled bulletins.
Let me describe an alternate reality. As the organ – or the worship band – concludes, some of the folks begin to move to the aisles. But the congregation has been coached to recognize that church isn’t over. Much pastoring will happen in the next few minutes. Members who have tuned their hearts to the prompting of the Spirit will be on the lookout for a guest, a stranger, a member who appears reticent to leave, hungry for a celestial touch, uncertain about the week ahead.
Many came looking for hope; many found it…in the welcome, in the Word, in the warmth. Now they don’t want to leave it behind. They are open to the touch of a caring hand. They might welcome a simple question like, “We are so glad you were here today; how can we pray for you this week?” Or, “We’re so happy to have you worship with us this morning; what one thing would you like to ask God to do for you this week?”
You’ve watched the human drama long enough to know that in every pew sits a broken heart. We come with our carefully ironed shirts, our carefully ironed smiles. If it’s church-as-usual we can leave and no one knows, nothing has changed. But instead of leaving with only an assembly line handshake at the door, God intercepts and sends someone. This is a prayer-saturated church, a place of miracles. A place where no one leaves hungry. A place where the members are driven by God’s mandate: Bear one another’s burdens.
Twenty minutes later the parking lot is only half empty. Small knots of people are still scattered about the building. Some are praying. Some are chatting. Some are embracing. And some are picking up crumpled bulletins. This is church.
-By Don Jacobsen